It had been two years since I had left the southwestern city of Kunming – the beautiful city of spring that had become my new home for one year of studying abroad. When I came back to China in the late spring of 2012, all I took with me was a backpack with clothes, the tiniest books I could find and vague plans of traveling around China for a few months first and looking for a job later. I took a flight from Vienna to Chongqing – after all, Kunming would be one of my destinations and Chongqing was not too far away from it (compared to more frequent flight destinations like Beijing or Shanghai).
In my imagination Chongqing was a laid-back mountain metropolis next to the river with lots of culture and history. This is not to say that Chongqing lacks culture or history, but when I arrived there on 7 June 2012, it was quite different from what I had expected. I took a cab to a hostel and from what I could make out in the mist that extended to every single corner of Chongqing, this was not a very pleasant city. Most Chongqingers I met during my stay there confirmed that this first impression of mine was true, at least it was true for the city as a city itself, but they assured me that it was not true for the people living there. Some of the people I met had been growing up in other parts of China, moving to Chongqing to look for job opportunities. Others had been growing up in Chongqing, went to bigger cities to study, and came back, first reluctantly, but later with the conviction that Chongqing, a city once tormented by organized crime, corruption, and in 2012 shaken by the political scandal surrounding the Heywood murder, needed them – the good and honest people of Chongqing.
One evening as I sat at a table with 10 Chongqingers, the conversations were as fiery as was the hot-pot this city was so famous for. After drinking some beer and baijiu, my Chongqing friends started telling me in loud voices how much they loved this doomed city and how much they wanted me to tell all my friends that Chongqing is a city worth visiting. They told me that the Chongqing of 2012 was already a much safer, cleaner and better place than the Chongqing of a few years ago. They told me that Chongqing was a city of opportunities, a city where good people greatly outnumbered bad people, a city that treated everyone the same, regardless of one’s place of origin.
Maybe the garbage I saw being thrown into the streets carelessly, maybe the mold that spread from one house to the next, maybe the mist that made it impossible to see further than a few 100 metres, or the unbearable summer heat were just what strangers would see on the surface, keeping them from seeing beneath it.
Have you ever been surprised by how different a place was in your imagination compared to reality?
If you’re interested in a more in-depth coverage of life and politics in Chongqing, I suggest you visit the following blog: http://insideoutchina.blogspot.co.at/.